Thursday, July 17, 2008

In Kocis Case, a Tough, Fair Jurist Welcomed.

With the past week being fairly busy... the hearing... posting documents... and additional news, I somehow over looked an interesting opion about the case, written by staff writer Edward Lewis of the Times Leader this past Monday:

Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. is no stranger to controversy.

When he senses an opportunity to challenge a legal issue, he’ll certainly provoke until he’s satisfied with the answer.

Prosecutors, defense lawyers, defendants and even probation officers are not off limits for Olszewski’s crosshairs. I know a journalist or two who also have been targeted by the fearless judge in open court.

He doesn’t argue the law in an insulting way, nor does he talk down to those who stand before him. It’s black or white in his courtroom.

That’s why I respect Olszewski.

He’s tough, but at the same time, he’s fair and perhaps slightly compassionate.

Last week, Olszewski asked defense lawyers representing two homicide suspects, Harlow Cuadra and Joseph Kerekes, if either of their clients would implicate the other in the Bryan Kocis murder trial.

I sat back trying to absorb the bold question.

The lawyers – Mark Bufalino, John Pike, Shelley Centini, Paul Galante, Steven Menn and Michael Senape - tried to evade the query.

Olszewski kept prodding.

Black-and-white proceedings a plus

I thought to myself there was no way the lawyers were going to reveal their defense strategies in a room filled with prosecutors and investigators.

Perhaps behind closed doors. But that doesn’t happen often, only in cases when court-appointed defense lawyers want more money for expert witnesses and need to outline their strategy in the absence of prosecutors and the public.

When Olszewski repeated his question again and again, the lawyers had no choice but admit that Cuadra and Kerekes might present some hostility toward the other during the capital murder trial.

It was a classic legal debate between experienced trial lawyers and the judge.

Olszewski not only chastised the defense lawyers, he also scolded prosecutors for filing investigative reports in the Clerk of Courts office that made them public.

Olszewski cautioned that such an illogical move could jeopardize the defendants’ right to a fair and balanced trial.

There’s more theatrics to come in this unique drama.

Less than two months from the scheduled start of the capital murder trial, the defense lawyers continue to shuffle in and out of the case.

Since the two defendants were extradited from another state last July to face the homicide charges, they have been represented by private attorneys, Luzerne County public defenders, and court-appointed attorneys.

To make matters more confusing, there remains a fight in state appellate court for a private attorney to rejoin the case.

Last week’s hearing was the first court proceeding that I’ve covered at the main courthouse in more than a year.

The courtroom was initially filled with shades of gray, but Olszewski used the paintbrush he often deftly wields and did his best to make everything black and white.

He’d better keep those brushes handy for future court proceedings in this case.